Most of us who work in school admissions have a page on our website that documents the steps that need to be taken in order to submit a student application. In an attempt to simplify a complex set of procedures - almost invariably designed without the user in mind - we break everything down into three or four phases: (1) Submit an application; (2) Send all accompanying documents and reports; (3) Wait for a decision; (4) Accept the offer of a place.
To be sure, this makes it easier for a family to understand where they are in the process of applying. At the same time, however, I have often found myself wondering why our focus is almost exclusively reserved for the bureaucratic end of the decision making cycle.
My suggestion here is that, if we just step back a little, we can perhaps identify a universal decision making cycle that all families go through; a cycle that both helps us understand how families choose a school and how we can support them better along the way.
In the diagram above, the path towards a successful family decision is broken down into six stages: Framing, Gathering, Weighing, Choosing, Acting, Reviewing. At each stage, we can also identify an essential question that the family needs to answer in order to advance along the cycle. This is outlined in more detail below.
Stage 1: Framing the question
What is the decision I need to make? Sometimes the toughest part of a decision is knowing where to start. It is important to help a family frame the scope of the decision they are about to make. Are there looking for a new start? Is this a 3-year assignment in a new location? Is this a decision that will determine the entire school experience of a child?
Stage 2: Gathering support
Who and what will support me in making my decision? Once the question has been framed, it is critical that a family is clear on who and what will provide support them along the way. The advice of friends and colleagues, information online, the school website and the admissions office are all important resources that need to be identified.
Stage 3: Weighing the options
What are the alternative options that are available to me right now? The reality for many families is that there may be several options available to them. At this stage it is important for the family to remain as open-minded as possible, so as not to close down options too quickly. Equally, it is important not to assume that the first choice recommendation is always the best.
Stage 4: Choosing the right school
What is the criteria against which I will make my decision? At a certain point, it is important for a family to identify what is important to them when choosing a school and to make a choice against this criteria. A family may have to weigh up competing expectations of a school from different family members in making a final decision.
Stage 5: Acting on my decision
What do I need to do to confirm my decision? Once a decision is made, a family will want to move swiftly through an application process. It is essential that this stage of the process is efficient and manages the now raised expectations of the family.
Stage 6: Reviewing my decision
How do I know that I made the right decision? The final stage of the decision making cycle is one that is often overlooked. Once a decision has been made and an application has been submitted, it is essential that a family can look back and feel reassured that this important decision was the right one.
There is probably much more to say here and there is no doubt that others will offer ways to improve upon these ideas. My point, however, is that if this is the pathway that all families tend to follow when choosing the right school for their child, it would surely be interesting to design a complete admissions experience from scratch with this cycle in mind.
For me, at least, that's what Advancement by Design is all about.
So if you are interested in building something together, let's get started!